Gwen Ngwenya. Picture: FACEBOOK
Gwen Ngwenya. Picture: FACEBOOK

DA policy chief Gwen Ngwenya has resigned, in part due to differences with the party leadership over black economic empowerment (BEE).

Ngwenya’s resignation comes a month before the party’s election manifesto launch and ahead of the crucial 2019 general election, set to be the toughest yet for parties across the board.

After the departure of former president Jacob Zuma, a significant portion of the electorate is up for grabs as voters weigh which political party has the best vision for SA.

The resignation further exposes the cracks in the DA over its policy direction and the unhappiness among the core "liberal" constituency of the party, who are dissatisfied with
its direction under party leader Mmusi Maimane.

Business Day understands Ngwenya’s resignation follows differences between the policy chief and the party leadership over its stance on broad-based BEE. While the party has cautiously endorsed BEE, the "liberal" component, of which Ngwenya is part, abhors any policy that resembles  racial quotas.

The balance between these views is a cause of tension.

Ngwenya, who is a former COO of liberal think-tank the Institute of Race Relations, did not complete a year in the post. The DA’s former policy head, Gavin Davis, resigned from the post in 2017.

Ngwenya will remain with the DA and continue to serve as an MP.

Maimane wished Ngwenya well and expressed confidence that the DA would put forward a powerful policy offering when it launches its manifesto in February. A process is in place to finalise its policy offerings.

In her hard-hitting resignation letter to Maimane, Ngwenya said there were many reasons for her resignation, including a lack of political support for her work, a fallout around the party’s stance on BBBEE, a lack of budget to do her work, and the absence of a job description.

"The bottom line is that I do not believe the DA takes policy seriously, and as a result, there has not been the operational or political resources necessary to result in a policy outcome I can be proud to be associated with," Ngwenya said in the letter.

She said she had never received a verbal or written
job description.

"I do feel a sense of loss. There are many good people, including yourself, fighting many fights every day, but ideas are not a battleground the DA likes to tread [on]," Ngwenya wrote.

Ngwenya was appointed as the party’s head of policy at the beginning of 2018.

It has been a difficult year for the opposition party as it grappled with its empowerment policies.

The party was sent into a spin after Ngwenya announced in August 2018 that it had ditched BEE from its economic policy. This was initially disputed by DA federal council chair James Selfe, who said the DA still believed that race was a proxy for disadvantage in SA.

After a public debate in August, Ngwenya and Selfe issued a joint statement, saying the DA rejected the ANC’s BEE policy and would offer an alternative model of "real, broad-based empowerment".

When asked for comment on her resignation on Thursday, Ngwenya referred Business Day to the party.

DA spokesperson Solly Malatsi said: "We thank Gwen for the work she has done on developing the party’s policy platform — this will now culminate in the launch of our 2019 election manifesto."